Stephen is, and I say this about a lot of people we profile, a really, really nice guy. Talented is putting it mildly. His artwork can be found all over bandcamp and your local record shop. His artwork is fluid, captivating and beautifully crafted. Rather than aggressively attack the viewer, Stephen’s artwork drags the viewer into the frame and engages with them. When his craft is applied to an album, the artwork creates a bonus dimension for the listener offering a mood or aura under which to enjoy the music inside. And his artwork is always, always perfectly crafted to match the album. So follow him on Twitter and forge ahead to learn more about him.
How did you first get into being so involved in the music industry and have you achieved all your wildest dreams that you set out to achieve?
It started with a small UK label. I worked with a project called VOMM (side project of another band that I believe the lead composer wants to keep secret), and things kind of took off from there. The next band I was geared up to work with was Sutekh Hexen. Scott, Kevin and I had a dialogue going about doing the artwork for their second cassette demo, Ritualistic. That tape was somewhat hugely successful, having been released on Fragment Factory, and then followed several other bands, like Tree of Sores, Drainland, Venowl, Circle of Eyes… I think it was a matter of just having been in touch with the right people at the right time and people actually believing in my work despite what a weird individual I can be to work with.
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get a job designing for a band that you really, really love? What’s some of the work you’re most proud of?
I don’t think I have ever truly debased myself just to work with someone. I don’t feel like there is anyone that you should do that for. For me, it’s always been about mutual interest and feeling passionate about working together, augmenting one another’s output. Some of my inquiries have gone unanswered, sure, but I’d just move on and work with someone else who did take the time to reply. I never took it personally because in this digital age, a lot will slip through the cracks, so I tend to just let it go. If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen. We all get busy from time to time.
The Ævangelist cover for Enthrall to the Void of Blissis just a masterpiece. Probably the best album artwork of 2015 in my opinion. How do you see the importance of your art in promoting and enhancing the experience of an album?
First of all, thank you! That drawing (Unification) was done at a very strange time, when I was experiencing a lot of conflicting feelings, being in between two very different spaces. While that piece in particular was done independently of Enthrall…, I do my best to try and match the tone and atmosphere of a band’s output, putting to paper what they put to tape. Sometimes I will listen to their work and things will just come to me somewhat naturally, usually with little guidance or intervention from the band themselves. Sometimes, things I produce have a certain gravity for some people. The drawing “Pay Fealty to Melancholy” attracted the attention of the band Vircolac for their demo Codex Perfida. At times it seems like preconception.
What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your work?
In general, I feel somewhat disconnected from people at large. Maybe it’s my personal framing of who I am, but I have accepted many truths about myself, such as that I am an introvert, that I am gay, that I don’t really exist within many definable boundaries for some people, and that often, I feel pretty alien, even among a scene where people were once regarded as the outcasts. A lot of my work references my struggles with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, some philosophical conundrums related to existentialism and otherwise, or the very fact that I often feel very alone, even in the presence of other people I often feel comforted by. I boil a lot of these things down to their most vital essence, the feelings contained within, and use those to my advantage. In some cases, there is some very deep theological exploration as well, but I often like to keep those kinds of things to myself. They only hold meaning to me and I absolutely do not care to have discussions with people where I am expected to validate my beliefs of what this reality entails, spiritually or otherwise. Sometimes these explorations manifest as intense, esoteric dreams or visions, or sometimes I will put my pencil down on the paper and, in many cases, the drawings themselves will guide me along.
How this might relate to society and politics is something I should probably keep to myself. But to give a little bit of a hint of where I’m at, I am just utterly disappointed in people at large. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, materialism, violence, hate, et al…I’ll stop myself there before I talk about how much I think it would be merciful for this planet to be snuffed out.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you?
My oldest sister can be blamed for that. When I was but a wee lad, about three or four, my sisters would blast Anthrax in our living room, and watch my small, squishy body crash against the furniture and violently flail about. Evidently there was a moment in time where a bike helmet was strapped to my head, and then something about running head first into the front door. It probably explains a lot about me. Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Ozzy, and others were all part of my formative years. In fact, I was able to spell and write Anthrax and Metallica before my own first name, or so I’ve been told.
After my sister moved out in 95, I was pretty much on my own, listening to what was popular. Korn led to Slipknot and Nothingface, which led to Pig Destroyer when I was about 14 or 15. From there I discovered death metal and black metal, listening to Emperor, Ulver, Mayhem, and so on. I was pretty much the only person in highschool that was actively interested in extreme metal, so it took me a while to cultivate my tastes in metal. I spent a lot of time by myself working on artwork, writing music, and discovering new music. In fact, most of my teenage years were spent completely isolated.
What’s the stickiest you have ever been?
Sadly I don’t have many exciting stories about sticky situations. I am a little self conscious when it comes to having sticky hands, though. Or just dirty hands. For that very reason, I get annoyed when I have to use garlic in recipes or something and wash my hands religiously after chopping it up. It’s just…god, it grosses me out. I’d probably start hyperventilating and need a shower if it ever got any worse than that.
Related to that, I work in graphite a lot. My hands are usually covered in it, and, as you might imagine, this drives me up the god damn wall.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists out there? How can they better tailor their work to accommodate and compliment an album?
Just do what you feel. Don’t let people try to dictate you too much, unless you like that sort of thing. Of course there are going to be cases where you have to swallow your pride and simply do what is asked, but I find that there are a great deal of people out there who want you to “do that one thing you did 5 years ago”. It doesn’t leave you with much room to grow as an artist or an individual. I try to push myself as much as possible. Sure, I sometimes repeat myself in some ways. Humans like patterns. But it’s always good to get some outside criticism and expand yourself and break out of habits. Stagnation is your number one enemy as a creative in any particular field. If you just start going through the motions, then what’s the point?
Do you have a day job and how much time/effort are you able to pour into your artwork on a daily basis?
I don’t have a day job. Not yet, at least. So far I have been doing ok, having just moved and focusing a lot of my free energy into my music, artwork and other pursuits. But there will more than likely come a time where I will have to seek outside work in order to supplement the work I do currently. Actually, I have accepted that as being an inevitability. Maybe things will get to a point where I won’t have to, but I suppose that as I get older, there is a large desire to have a bit more…regularity to things. Stability. I have too much anxiety about everything else, so I need some sort of a constant in my life.
Finally, what are some of your favorite albums of 2015 (feel free to include non-metal)?
I have been really into Adversarial’s Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism, I feel that it matches my mood a lot of the time. Cruciamentum’s Charnel Passages is also worth a good listen. Shroud of the Heretic’s Unorthodox Equilibrium is also incredible, and not because I have done work for them, but because it’s genuinely masterfully crafted death metal. But, in all honesty? The two albums that have gotten me super excited are the two most recent Beach House albums, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars. They reach deep into my innate sadness. There’s something about those two albums that I just can’t get away from.
Thanks to Stephen Wilson his time. Never easy to put down the graphite, grab the lava soap and prepare to answer all these questions.